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Rivian's sustainability chief: EV sector needs to be a positive force in evolving supply chain

Aerial drone view of the Rivian wind turbine
Courtesy
/
Rivian
Construction of the wind turbine at Rivian's Normal plant began in May. It became operational on Friday.

The electric automaker Rivian is out with a new “impact” report tracking progress on sustainability goals, workplace culture and employee diversity, and philanthropic efforts.

A lot of companies do these types of corporate social responsibility reports. But Rivian’s carries extra weight because concern about climate change and the environment are core to its founding and its brand. 

WGLT recently spoke to Rivian’s chief sustainability officer, Anisa Kamadoli Costa, about the report. An excerpt of the interview is below. It’s been edited for clarity. 

WGLT: One of Rivian’s goals is for your manufacturing plant in Normal to be running on 100% renewable energy on an annual basis by 2030. You want to be diverting 90% of manufacturing-plant waste from landfills by 2030. How close are you already to those goals? And how do you get the rest of the way? 

Anisa Kamadoli Costa: I have to start off by saying that Rivian is so proud that our first three vehicles – the R1T, the R1S, and the commercial van – are all made in Normal, Illinois. And I know that the entire team in Normal has done a phenomenal job as we've ramped up production. 

From an energy perspective, in September 2022, we actually turned on the 783-kilowatt solar canopy charging yard at our plant in Normal. And we also started development back in 2022 of the 2.8-megawatt wind turbine, which you can see is currently operational in Normal. And that wind turbine is capable of generating nearly 10 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. So combined, what that does – the turbine along with the solar charging yard – is it provides every R1 vehicle its first charge entirely from on-site renewable energy before the vehicle is delivered to our customers. And that's huge. It's significant. It's something we're incredibly proud of. And so with respect to our goal of generating 100% renewable energy on an annual basis, these are two key components for us for our Normal facility. 

Anisa Kamadoli Costa
Daymion Mardel
Anisa Kamadoli Costa is Rivian's chief sustainability officer.

You also asked about waste. At normal, we divert right now approximately 82% of our waste. So we're on target to reach our goal of 90% by 2030. But it's something that is very important to us and remains front and center. 

Your impact report also covers responsible sourcing – where Rivian materials and supplies come from. We've all seen reporting from around the world where mining for the minerals used in batteries, for instance, has led to human rights abuses in some cases. What can you tell us about how Rivian sources its materials at this point? 

Good question. So, I agree that traceability and visibility really serve as the foundation of responsible sourcing of strategic supplier integrity. And these are issues that I personally have been working on for the last two decades-plus. And that's why you see, in terms of Rivian’s priorities in line with our goals, that it's really important for us that we have and gain visibility into what is a very complex, what is a still new and evolving supply chain. 

We've already begun working with our supply-chain partners on this front. And we've put in foundational elements, such as our Supplier Code of Conduct and a Human Rights Policy as well. And I think in areas is complex as this, it's important to be a part of really rigorous multistakeholder initiatives. And this is something that we're all in on. So, for example, we are a member of IRMA, which is the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. We’re a member of the Responsible Business Alliance, and we're also a member of the Public-Private Alliance

Because at the end of the day, the EV sector really can and needs to be a positive force in these critical supply chains. But it is going to take collaboration. It's going to take thoughtfulness, and it's certainly going to take vision for what the future can bring and should bring. So we're all going to collectively need to work together to live up to the potential of this very important, just transition, because no one company can do this alone. But at Rivian, collaboration is such a key part of how we aim to operate. 

Let’s talk about charging. If the entire world were to transition to EVs tomorrow, do we run the risk of – as you put it in the report – just shifting emissions from tailpipes to power plants?

For Rivian, it's really important that we are looking at where our electricity is being sourced. And we want to make sure that we are looking at how we're procuring our renewable energy and what role we're playing in this vision overall. So it's important for us to actively support increasing renewable energy on the grid toward our vision for the 24/7 carbon-free grid. 

When we look at our two-pronged approach to our electricity goals. Where our electricity is more concentrated … so for Normal is a good example. We've set a goal of procuring over 90% hourly carbon-free electricity. Where our electricity footprint is more distributed, such as charging, where we don't control the hours of the day when people charge, what we're doing here is we're taking an emissions-first approach to sourcing renewable energy and electricity. So we're looking at where our renewable electricity investments can make the greatest impact both on the grid itself as well as on communities and the environment. And this is the “three C” approach (climate, conservation, community) as seen in our report with The Nature Conservancy

And these two areas are also consistent with the findings of the (Rivian and Polestar) Pathway Report. The Pathway Report is something that we co-commissioned last year. And what that report shows is that there are three key levers that all need to be pulled very hard and at the same time in order to ensure that we meet our global climate goals as a society. And those three levers are: transition to electric vehicles, the second levers of fossil free energy, and the third is reducing supply-chain emissions. 

I imagine that a lot of what I'm seeing in this impact report is not necessarily the cheapest way of operating a business. How often is there a tension between Rivian’s business needs as a publicly traded company and its sustainability and environmental goals? 

Well, it’s important to note that because we're not yet a profitable business … and our products, of course, are a part of solution to climate change … our growth and our ability to scale is in and of itself an important part of maximizing Rivian’s positive impact in the world. 

So as we were developing our goals, we really thought hard about the balance between ambition – and there’s no shortfall of that here at Rivian – and what is realistic for us at this point in our path to profitability. 

I would also say that, and you probably hear this often because it's true, it’s not necessarily more expensive to find more sustainable pathways and alternatives. And that is something that we always remember and keep front and center throughout the business, so that we're not always viewing things as a trade-off. 

Another piece of the impact report is what it's like to work at Rivian, including your diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) goals. What is Rivian’s Belonging Index, and what sort of trajectory are you on with it? 

First, I have to say because it's so important that we really feel at Rivian that diversity fuels innovation and it fosters creativity. And those are two key elements that make Rivian successful. 

So as part of that, we have a range of programs that support diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and that help us pursue those goals. And those initiatives range from internal mobility, allyship, learning and development, career development, hiring and more. And it’s a real passion point for everyone at the company. It’s led, of course by our People team, and it's something that we're working to continue and strengthen. 

The Belonging Index is one way that we track employee sentiment on belonging through our regular surveys. So it's an important way that we are able to capture and see our progress in this area. 

The important thing here is that this is something that you've got to nurture and grow because this is a space that's ever evolving and ever growing. And as our employee population continues to grow and evolve, it's something that isn't static, but it's something that we're extremely committed to because we understand its importance to our people, and to the growth and future success of our business.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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